Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: September 2005

Friday, September 30, 2005

Finally, a Little Bit of Outrage

Pretty much everybody's already commented on William Bennett's recent discussion of blacks, abortion, and crime, but since when is that a reason to stop me from piling on? If you haven't seen it, Bennett, in the cause of a larger point, said, "You could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down." He immediately dismissed the idea as "an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do," but the damage had been done. Bill doesn't quite seem to get that people are outraged at his link between black babies and crime rather than some suggestion that the babies might actually be aborted. Even the Prez has distanced himself from the remarks, at least according to Scott McClellan. So it looks like maybe casual racism will not soon become a virtue.

Republican Turbulence

Dan Balz has a news analysis in Thursday's Washington Post looking at the convergence of all bad things that are currently tormenting the Republican party.

On almost every front, Republicans see trouble. Bush is at the low point of his presidency, with Iraq, hurricane relief, rising gasoline prices and another Supreme Court vacancy all problems to be solved. Congressional Republicans have seen their approval ratings slide throughout the spring and summer; a Washington Post-ABC News poll in August found that just 37 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is doing its job, the lowest rating in eight years.

On the ethics front, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is under investigation for selling stock in his family's medical business just before the price fell sharply. The probe of well-connected lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a former close associate of DeLay, threatens to create even more troubles for Republicans. Finally, the special counsel investigation into whether White House senior adviser Karl Rove or others in the administration broke the law by leaking the name of the CIA's Valerie Plame is nearing a conclusion.

Yes, it's bad, and it could be getting worse. All the facts are yet to be in on any of these developing situations, so all bets are off. Just this afternoon a new bombshell broke on the Plame affair. After a phone discussion with Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby (who claims that he freed her from any commitment of confidentiality over a year ago), Judith Miller was freed from jail and has agreed to testify to the grand jury. I guess the special counsel investigation is even closer to concluding than it was when Balz initially wrote that. We'll keep an eye out for any new developments as the day progresses.

But does any of this mean anything for the Democrats? Balz addresses that little issue, too.

For Democrats, there were many cautionary notes yesterday, despite their obvious glee over DeLay's indictment. On a practical level, the House is now so gerrymandered by redistricting that far fewer districts are genuinely competitive, making the Democrats' task of scoring big gains there more difficult. Nor is there much evidence yet that the voters see Democrats as an attractive alternative, no matter how sour they may be about the Republicans.

The Democrats have so faded away not just as an opposition party but even as a viable alternative, that they're not in the position to capitalize on all this that they should be. They have to rebuild themselves and slowly establish an identity. They're in a better position than the Repubs to be sure, but they've got a lot more work in front of them than they may be willing to recognize.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

White Sox Clinch

It seems I was incorrect last night when I argued that a White Sox tie with Cleveland at the end of the season would necessitate a one-off playoff game. It turns out that, with the win this afternoon, if the White Sox do end the season in a tie, both they and the Indians will still have a better record than the top two Eastern Division teams, the Red Sox and the Yankees, could both possibly have--because they're playing each other, one of the teams could have a better record than the tied White Sox and Indians, but both could not. I talked about the possibility of a Eastern Division tie at the end of the season, too, but if that happened, both those teams would be a game behind the tied Central Division team, so only one--whoever triumphed in the one-game playoff--would go to the league playoffs.

The tied White Sox and Indians would both go to the playoffs--one with the division title and the other with the wild card. Since a playoff berth would not be at stake, the league would just fall back on how the White Sox and Indians fared in head-to-head match-ups through the year. To get the tie, remember, the Indians would have to sweep the Sox over the weekend, but the White Sox would still end up with a final 11-8 record against them. So therefore, the Sox would go into the books with the division title, the Indians would get the wild card, so they'd be happy too, and either the Red Sox or the Yanks would go home crying (and there's no secret who my choice for crying is). This is all explained in an article at the Major League Baseball Website.

So congrats to the White Sox! Cleveland also won, so they're still in a position to sweep over the weekend and end the season in a tie. New York and Boston also both won, so they go into their final head-to-head with the Yanks one game up. Still, a Boston sweep gives them the Eastern Division, and a 2-1 split leaves a tie (remember, a tie in he Eastern Division results in a one-game playoff for the title). GO RED SOX!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Ronnie Earle's Partisan Record

Not surprisingly--in fact, completely predictably--Repubs are claiming that Travis County D.A. Ronnie Earle has indicted Tom DeLay as part of a partisan witch hunt. Well, Earle is a Democrat. But what's his partisan history? Media Matters has been keeping track and has posted the following fact several times over the last little while:

But a March 17 editorial in the Houston Chronicle noted: "During his long tenure, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has prosecuted many more Democratic officials than Republicans. The record does not support allegations that Earle is prone to partisan witch hunts."

This assertion supports Earle's own claim about his record. From a March 6 article in the El Paso Times: "Earle says local prosecution is fundamental and points out that 11 of the 15 politicians he has prosecuted over the years were Democrats."

That's right, Texas has dirty politicians of all stripes, and if Earle didn't let the fact that they were in the same party as him stop him from going after them, there's no reason to expect that DeLay's membership in the opposite party would make him railroad the speaker. It's far easier to claim partisanship than to actually address the charges in the indictment itself.

White Sox Are One Game Away from Clinching a Playoff Berth--[UPDATED]

As I've been mentioning from time to time, the White Sox haven't exactly been on fire as the season comes to a close. They won tonight, though, and Cleveland lost, so they're currently up by three. However, if the worst comes to pass and they do nothing but lose for the rest of the season, they're assured of, at worst, a tie for the wild card. This is a bit complicated, but the worst-case scenario for the White Sox would necessitate a win tomorrow night for both the Yankees and the Red Sox and then those two teams splitting their final series in such as way as to end up in a tie for the Eastern Division. In that case, those two team would also have the same win/loss records as the White Sox, so the Yanks and BoSox would play a tie-breaker for the division title, and then the loser would play the White Sox in a tie-breaker for the wild card. (However, if the Red Sox lose tomorrow night, no matter what else happens with any other team--even if the Red Sox end up winning their own division anyway--the White Sox clinch their place in the playoffs.)

The sportscasters on NBC's Chicago Channel 5 made the inaccurate claim that if the White Sox win tomorrow night, they'll clinch their division, even if Cleveland sweeps them in the final series and ends up in a tie. No one who made the claim also said they understood how the math would work--Ryan Baker even claimed that, with Cleveland's loss tonight, the White Sox are assured of a division tie, which for reasons he didn't explain, would end up with the title going to the White Sox. I'm sure what the buzz was really about--whether anyone recognized it or not--is that a win tomorrow night, as I explained above, means they've got a spot in the playoffs regardless of what happens with the division title.

Thanks to the generosity of a regular Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk reader, there's a ticket for the first White Sox home playoff game with my name on it. So I'm paying just that little bit more attention to the final stretch.

UPDATE--This is wrong. A win Thursday did clinch the division for the White Sox. Here's why.

House Majority Leader Indicted!

I don't usually have the time or availability to make this a breaking news blog, but this one is kind of important. After much speculation for a long time, more active rumors yesterday, and great gobs of hope on the part of Dems everywhere, a Texas grand jury has indicted Tom DeLay. In an even bigger surprise--to me, anyway--he's announced that he's stepping down from his position in the Republican House leadership. I thought they'd have to take him kicking and screaming (although, I guess we don't know for sure that they didn't). Sure, Republican party rules state that officials under indictment can't serve in the leadership, but they've bent such rules before and I fully expected them to bend them again (although, again, there's still time and opportunity for them to do that). I think we'll get more than our share of reminders that in this country the accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty. And whatever agenda those making that point are pushing, we should remember that detail is not only correct, it's one of the strengths of our system. We're still in the earliest days of this story, and there's a long way to go before we find out how it will all end up. But it's probably not inappropriate to open a bottle of champagne if you're so moved.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Missed It by That Much

There are a handful of TV shows from my childhood that I followed avidly from as young as I can remember: Daniel Boone, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Flintstones, Lost in Space. I loved all of those, but one of my absolute favorites was Get Smart. I wasn't old enough to see James Bond at the movies, and for me at five years old, Maxwell Smart was a serious enough secret agent. Sure, there were punch lines, but Kaos was an ominous threat, and Control needed to use all their resources to keep them at bay. I didn't know what kind of car Max drove at the beginning of the opening, but I knew I wanted one (and forty years later, I still do), and the succession of opening doors continue to have a strange fascination for me. I hardly knew it, but this was my first exposure to Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, as well. And yes, even though I was only five years old, I knew Agent 99 was hot. By the way, the cover above was the only issue of the Get Smart comic I owned.

I've been pleasantly surprised by the attention Don Adams is getting upon his death. There are the regular obits, of course, but he's also showing up in a couple of other places. There's a nice appreciation of Get Smart and its catchphrases in The Washington Post. And Eric McCormack claims Adams was his inspiration to become an actor. Thanks for the laughs, Don.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Too Much Good News Lately?

With two hurricanes having come right into the heart of the nation's oil refinery capacity and disrupting distribution in ways that aren't yet clear, it's time to catch up with James Howard Kunstler. He's been casting a jaundiced eye on our energy dependency at The Clusterfuck Nation Chronicle and making drastic predictions of what it all means. These latest disasters seem to make those predictions that much more likely. Here's part of what he wrote today:

Rita might have spared the nation's fourth biggest metroplex, and most of the chemical-cracking infrastructure on-shore around it. But clawing up between Beaumont and Lake Charles, she cut a path through the densest concentration of offshore oil and gas rigs in the whole Gulf of Mexico. We don't know they all came through yet, or how the pipelines below the surface fared.

. . .

Half the houses in America are heated with natural gas and most of them are elsewhere than the Gulf Coast. On the markets, the price of gas is now heading north of $15 a unit (1000 cubic feet). It could easily hit $20 by Christmas, which would be about 700 percent higher than the price in 2002. Everyone in the non-Sunbelt is going to feel the pain this winter, and quite a few of the poor and infirm may freeze to death.

. . .

The political allegiance of the American public will be fully in play. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and we are likely to see the emergence of something new, perhaps something like the British National Party (BNP) which combines a very aggressive agenda on energy policy with overt fascism. The American people will be starved for action, too, and will be waiting for a man of action to embody their desperation. Let's hope that the characters who percolate out of this mess are not maniacs.

. . .

By Christmas, gasoline pump prices will have joined home heating prices in a vicious pincer around the neck of the non-rich classes.

The serious public conversation of our energy predicament has not begun, and when it does it will be too late. In the background of all this, an economy based on suburban sprawl and easy motoring is going to absolutely fall on its ass, and that means a much quicker end to the housing bubble than we might have expected a month ago. It might also lead to both the demise of the airline industry and the nationalization of what remains of it. It will certainly quash any remaining faith that such an economy can produce wealth, which is what the financial markets are based on, so look out below on Wall Street.

Sleep tight.

Bursting at the Seems

Three weeks ago, Newsweek said Bush blew it. This week, in an article that's clearly trying to be conciliatory and give Bush the benefit of the doubt ("It is probably not realistic to expect government to rise above human frailty in a crisis"--so we've reached the point where we should expect government to drop the ball?), Evan Thomas provides an absolutely devastating paragraph on Bush's reaction, or lack thereof, to being told that Rita was not the destructive storm originally feared.

The president didn't look all that relieved or happy, however. His eyes were puffy from lack of sleep (he had been awakened all through the night with bulletins), and he seemed cranky and fidgety. A group of reporters and photographers had been summoned by White House handlers to capture a photo op of the commander in chief at his post. Bush stared at them balefully. He rocked back and forth in his chair, furiously at times, asked no questions and took no notes. It almost seemed as though he resented having to strike a pose for the press.

"Almost seemed as though . . . "? Resentment is exactly what this passage presents. You couldn't ask for a better description of someone who's in over his head, bitter over being forced to do something he can't and doesn't want to do anyway. This is a description of a five-year-old child, not the leader of the free world.

Newsweek tries to end the article on an up note, but the last line almost seems as though it could be rather chilling, instead:

But there are a lot of storm systems yet to come--and three years is time enough for Bush to show that his leadership means more than staging heroic poses.

Or not.

Washington's Peace March

Here's a couple of photos from what some are claiming to be the largest anti-war demonstration in Washington since the Iraq war started. The Washington Post tried to pin down the number in attendance at Saturday's march. Organizers were originally shooting for 100,000 but claimed 300,000. The District of Columbia's chief of police, who didn't want to give an official estimate, acknowledged that 150,000 was "as good a guess as any."

The Associated Press described the crowd as "young activists, nuns whose anti-war activism dates to Vietnam, parents mourning their children in uniform lost in Iraq, and uncountable families motivated for the first time to protest."

Several speakers were on the program once the march reached the Ellipse, including Cindy Sheehan, Jesse Jackson, and Patti Smith, and music was provided by Joan Baez, Steve Earle, and many others. Thievery Corporation and Le Tigre were due on toward the end of the night.

These photos are courtesy of Stevie T. and Mayumi S. as they marched. (Stevie T. called me when Joan Baez sang "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" for old times sakes). Check this out for a whole camera's worth of shots.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Rich Available (for a Short Time Only?)

As I mentioned last week, The New York Times took its columnists and went home. Well, at least it went behind a new NYTimes pay curtain, so the columnists can't come out to play any more. If you look around into the nooks and crannies of various blogs, though, you can sometimes find some of these people available to read. Today's Frank Rich column, "Bring Back Warren Harding," can be found at ratboy's anvil, at least until the Times make them take it down. Rich is taking on the subject of Bush cronyism, something that's been fairly well covered over the past week, but it's still worth the read. Here's a snippet:

Ours will be remembered as the Enron era. Enron itself is a distant memory--much like all that circa 2000 talk of a smoothly efficient C.E.O. presidency led by a Harvard M.B.A. and a former chief executive of Halliburton. But even as American business has since been purged by prosecutions and reforms, the mutant Enron version of the C.E.O. culture still rules in Washington: uninhibited cronyism, cooked books, special-favors networks, the banishment of whistle-blowers and accountability. More than ideology, this ethos has sabotaged even the best of American intentions, whether in Iraq or New Orleans. Unchecked, it promises greater disasters to come.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

W Wants His Mojo Back

Even as Rita was deciding whether to hit Texas or Louisiana, a part of this story was how the Bush Administration would react. Would they be on top of every little detail, or could they possibly repeat their dismal performance from Katrina? That second option was pretty much out the window, because everybody knew that everybody else was watching, and whatever they did it wouldn't be nothing. So Bush wanted to make sure it was crystal clear that he was involved and concerned. Unfortunately, there wasn't much he could do to demonstrate that. Emergency preparation is mostly about what you can't see and what you hope you won't need. Nothing really becomes clear until after the event. If the government was prepared, well, things went like they were supposed to, but if the government wasn't, then it was clear for the world to see.

The Prez was under a microscope this time around, and there's plenty of news stories and commentary about what he was up to. He'd planned to go to San Antonio to look like he was in charge, but that plan went awry. The official reason was because the search-and-rescue team he'd planned his photo op around was getting ready to move closer to the potential hurricane, but The New York Times reported the real reason was that San Antonio was too sunny (Hat tip: AMERICAblog). Here's the Times:

Another White House official involved in preparing Mr. Bush's way noted that with the sun shining so brightly in San Antonio, the images of Mr. Bush from here might not have made it clear to viewers that he was dealing with an approaching storm.

So instead, he went to U.S. Northern Command headquarters in Colorado because . . . well . . . I guess that's where they decided he'd look best watching the weather. And looks is what it's all about, no one has any doubt of that. In the NBC News blog yesterday, White House correspondent David Gregory wrote:

Bottom line is, these are photo ops. White House aides admit they want Mr. Bush to be seen in briefings and personally tending to the government's response. Mr. Bush has no choice but to be in the middle of the action. Disaster relief and rebuilding are now the canvas of his second term. Between storms and war, the President's vision may face less scrutiny than his administration's basic competence.

This morning's Washington Post had a "news analysis" making the argument that Bush was desperately trying to get his mojo back (although they referred to it as his "swagger").

A president who normally thrives on tough talk and self-assurance finds himself at what aides privately describe as a low point in office, one that is changing the psychic and political aura of the White House, as well as its distinctive political approach.

In small, sometimes subtle but unmistakable ways, the president and top aides sound less certain, more conciliatory and willing to do something they avoided in the first term: admit mistakes. After bulling through crisis after crisis with a "bring 'em on" brashness, a more solemn Bush now has twice taken responsibility for the much-criticized response to Hurricane Katrina.

Aides who never betrayed self-doubt now talk in private of failures selling the American people on the Iraq war, the president's Social Security plan and his response to Hurricane Katrina.

And why is this happening? One brave (though somehow still anonymous) top Republican blames it on the lack of an election to run for and on Laura. That's right, blame a woman.

Is there any dismay at the White House that Rita weakened and veered away from Houston, depriving Bush of an opportunity he so desperately craves to show off his presidential mojo? Was this another woman leading him astray? Maybe a new crisis will be along soon to give him another chance. We can only hope.

Friday, September 23, 2005


Very slow, sluggish blogging tonight. I seem to have some sort of a bug that's going around. It's not enough to knock me out, but it's really slowing me down. If I just couldn't get out of bed at all that might be better, because then I'd give up on any ambition of getting anything much done. This way, I start to do things but move forward with very little energy and just get frustrated.

Not that there's not plenty to talk about. Rita is still bearing down on the Texas coast, although it seems at this point that Galveston and Houston have dodged a bullet (if administration officials again try to use that phrase to excuse their slacking, you'll know they've been reading this blog). Port Arthur doesn't seem quite so lucky. On some Web page that I can't find again at the moment, Dan Rather was quoted as saying that waiting for the hurricane to hit is always the most difficult part of the experience (his reporting when Hurricane Carla hit Houston more than forty years ago gave him his first national attention). I think that's probably right. You've done everything you can do to prepare, and you're left just wondering if it's going to be enough. It's even worse this time, because the memories of the devastation this kind of storm can wreak is fresh in our minds. (I also have a theory that seeing our government and society fall so far short in the Katrina recovery has been difficult for our psyches, a situation that's not been lessened by how the evacuation of Houston played out [or failed to], but this is probably not the time for it--maybe when I'm feeling better.) Not to mention that New Orleans is flooding again.

And there's other stuff--Roberts coming through the Judiciary Committee with three Democratic votes, although more and more Dems are lining up to vote against him in the main Senate vote. There's Bill Frist being investigated for ordering a stock sale before it experienced a hugedrop in value. Insider trading? I don't know, but it's just a little bit suspicious that the stock was supposed to have been in a blind trust.

But there'll be time for all of that tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm going to go to bed and watch the hurricane coverage.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Are We Just Going to Replay Four Weeks Ago?

Just as is seemed to be getting safe to go back to discussing more frivolous topics, another hurricane has come barreling into the Gulf. And not to take anything away from Galveston and the threat it faces, but I'm glad the media finally took the time to remember that Houston, America's fourth largest city (and quickly moving in on Chicago for third), is just a bit inland from there. I don't want to see Galveston flattened, but Houston is the bigger story. The projected track for Hurricane Rita has been moving slightly eastward away from Houston toward Beaumont, Port Arthur, and the Louisiana border.

There's nothing to do from a distance except to keep watching. Just like a couple of news blogs from New Orleans were hugely informative during Katrina, the Houston Chronicle has started a Rita Blog so we can all keep up with what's going on. Right now it appears to be a mad rush to get out of town and further inland as freeways are jammed and cars aren't able to average more than 4 or 5 mph for hours on end. And that, of course, is for the people who have cars. It's hard to tell what kind of evacuation might be prepared for those without. And what's happening at the Astrodome? Where are all those people going, and how are they getting there? Are they still planning to settle down in Houston? Maybe Barbara Bush can at least drop by to cheer them up.

I still know a few people in Houston, so my thoughts are with them as they try to leave the area or choose to stick it out. And good luck to everyone else who's evacuated, stuck on the roads, or simply unable to leave for some reason or other.

The Gray Lady Adds a Touch of Color

After (oh I don't know, how old is The New York Times, anyway?) 150 years or so, The New York Times added something new to its pages on Sunday. Going all retro on us, it introduced something it's calling "The Funny Pages." Does that say comics to you? Well, it should. The paper's long history as being too serious for comics was shattered this week as words and pictures invaded the pages of the Sunday magazine (that's right, comics aren't actually showing up on the newsprint pages--not yet, anyway). Don't worry, the comics have a pristine pedigree: Chris Ware, toast of the comics cognoscenti, provides the first installment of a comics story that's due to go (roughly) 24 installments. It's available online in a PDF file. But comics aren't the only element available in "The Funny Pages." Elmore Leonard is serializing a novella over 14 weeks. You can access all this and more (they're also publishing humorous essays by a different author every week) at the table of contents for "The Funny Pages" (which promises to keep older episodes of the comic strip and serialized story available for those who might be coming in late).

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Democrats Defiant (at least a little bit)

I've been complaining from time to time that the Democrats are offering little or no opposition to an extremely weakened President, but when it comes to John Roberts, it looks like they're going to show a little bit of spine. Harry Reid came out yesterday and announced his intention to vote against the nomination. Patrick Leahy, the top-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said he'd vote for Roberts, so Reid won't be able to hold his party together, but as much opposition as he can muster is important.

Even if Reid could hold all Democrats to a negative vote, Roberts would still win confirmation, so it's an entirely symbolic vote, but I think it's an important symbol. A number of people are using the "from what we know" defense in supporting Roberts--from what we know, he seems quite reasonable. Of course, that's because the Bushies have conveniently "misplaced" or otherwise made unavailable any documentation that might prove otherwise. To fall back on the old conservative argument that an innocent man has nothing to hide, we have to assume that the documents the administration is holding close to its chest reveal that Roberts is not the man he's presenting himself to be. At this point, it's easy enough for the Bush people to prove that assumption wrong, and the fact that they refuse to speaks volumes.

Voting against Roberts is the right thing for Dems to do. Even if they can't defeat him, they can demonstrate that they're not willing to go along with the program regardless. Maybe it'll be the start of something.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

White Sox Update

After leading both leagues for far longer than anyone expected this year, the White Sox are fading in the stretch. Boy are they fading. They've only won three of their last eleven games, and they're not helped by the way the Indians are just charging ahead. The Indians have cut their one-time 15-game deficit to just two and a half (they beat the Sox in a head-to-head matchup last night to drop it from three and a half), and the Sox face them in two more games at that field where the Sox play (not Comiskey any more--I think it has some other name). If the Indians sweep the series, they'll be only half a game out. And if the Indians do pass the Sox, the Sox immediately fall into the wild card race. As of this moment, their record is only four games better than the Yankees (who themselves are only a half game behind the Red Sox in AL East). With only 13 games left to play, their magic number is 11. This is distinctly Northside behavior. Will the dream season fade just that easily? Will 2005 actually be the season of the Miracle Indians rather than the Suprise White Sox? We'll know in less than two weeks.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Passing of Pop Moments

Tomorrow is a significant day for me. It's going to mark a passing of the torch of sorts. One of my heroes is Paul Weller. While he was still essentially a kid, he started the Jam and went to the top of the English pop scene. The Jam never made it in the U.S., but they've come to be quite appreciated here in retrospect. Even twenty and twenty-five years later, their singles and their six albums still deliver a manic pop thrill that puts a chill up my spine. Weller's guitar has a life and power of its own that rarely fails to deliver. He told us to love with a passion called hate (because what we give is what we get). He introduced us to Liza Radley, who kissed our face and said, "Love means nothing at all." He warned us off from the Burning Sky, which consumes all and has no time for dreams when commerce calls. He showed us two lovers reading the graffiti about slashed seats affairs. But he also reminded us that we can find our own English Rose and no bonds can ever keep us from she. As far as I'm concerned, "Going Underground" presents words to live by more appropriate to today than to when it was written in 1980. Paul Weller is coming to Chicago tomorrow night. But I'm going to see Franz Ferdinand.

Franz is young, serious. They were very much last year's band of the moment, and I want to see if they can keep it up. Weller can still thrill me, but I'm not sure if he can surprise me anymore. Franz, I'm hoping, can. They could fall into the sophomore jinx, which would be quite disappointing, but if they can grow and move forward a bit, they may have quite a future in front of them. I believe I know the path Weller is taking, but Franz still has to chart theirs, and I'm curious to see where it might lead. I think there will be two good, strong shows in Chicago tomorrow (actually, there's the potential for more--Beck is playing around the corner from Franz, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club will be a five-minute walk from Weller). I'm going to see Franz tomorrow night, but I'm taking my Jam CDs into work tomorrow to listen to all day.

I'd planned to end this post with that last paragraph, but as I was rooting around the Internet writing this post, I looked to see what I could find out about the Weller tour. He played long sets in California, more than twenty-five songs in LA and San Francisco, so depending on when Franz lets out, I might just see if I can get in to see the end of Weller's show.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Final Free Rich

Starting tomorrow, The New York Times starts charging for its opinion columns, so that means today's Frank Rich column is the last one we'll be able to read for free. I've enjoyed a number of the Times columnists, but Rich has always been the most reliable for a clever, insightful read. And, just as if he was making his case for us to pay the subscription fee, he provided a great summation of the fallout on the administration from Katrina.

Once Toto parts the curtain, the Wizard of Oz can never be the wizard again. He is forever Professor Marvel, blowhard and snake-oil salesman. Hurricane Katrina, which is likely to endure in the American psyche as long as L. Frank Baum's mythic tornado, has similarly unmasked George W. Bush.

The worst storm in our history proved perfect for exposing this president because in one big blast it illuminated all his failings: the rampant cronyism, the empty sloganeering of "compassionate conservatism," the lack of concern for the "underprivileged" his mother condescended to at the Astrodome, the reckless lack of planning for all government operations except tax cuts, the use of spin and photo-ops to camouflage failure and to substitute for action.

In the chaos unleashed by Katrina, these plot strands coalesced into a single tragic epic played out in real time on television. The narrative is just too powerful to be undone now by the administration's desperate recycling of its greatest hits: a return Sunshine Boys tour by the surrogate empathizers Clinton and Bush I, another round of prayers at the Washington National Cathedral, another ludicrously overhyped prime-time address flecked with speechwriters' "poetry" and framed by a picturesque backdrop. Reruns never eclipse a riveting new show.

Everything the administration is doing these days reeks of desperation. Their old tricks don't seem to be working at the moment, but these guys know how to stay on message, and I'm not convinced that the repetition won't work to change a few minds. Even as everything seems to be falling apart for the administration and Congressional Repubs don't seem to be doing anything but offering cover, the Democrats continue to sit on their hands. Now is the time to present some sort of alternate message, any sort of competition for the party in power, but nothing seems to be in the offing. The Repubs may survive their current troubles because Dems refused to take the field and enter the game.

Coincidentally, The New York Times is about to withdraw its participation in the public discussion to behind a subscription curtain. I don't know whether this will work for them in the long run, but the short run will find much less reference to Rich, Maureen Dowd, Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, David Brooks, and the whole Op/Ed gang within greater blogsylvania. Other papers may follow their lead in charging for access or may step in to soak up some of the vacuum. The Internet has consistently proven itself resilient, but it also changes quickly. Blogs have not evolved into their final form, and any attempt at predicting what such a form might be like would be fruitless. Will that evolution be affected by the withdrawal of the Times, or will blogs even notice the change? My money's on "barely notice," for what that's worth. But as we wave goodbye to easy online access for the Times's pundits, let's take a look at Rich's final free paragraph, which sets up our challenge for life after Bush.

What comes next? Having turned the page on Mr. Bush, the country hungers for a vision that is something other than either liberal boilerplate or Rovian stagecraft. At this point, merely plain old competence, integrity and heart might do.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Smart Words on Rove

In that same Washington Post article I cited in the previous post, Rahm Emanuel, congressman from a neighboring Chicago district and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has the best one-liner on Rove being in charge of the Gulf rebuilding effort I've seen so far: "Mr. Rove may be an expert on leaks, but that doesn't qualify him to oversee flood relief."

Tough Choices

Uh, oh. We're rapidly coming upon some of those difficult questions we'll be forced to face in responding to Katrina. The other night, the Prez laid out an ambitious rebuilding program that's been estimated to cost $200 billion--$200 billion dollars that's not currently in the budget. Where will it come from?

Bush has already made one tough choice about that:

Amid growing concern among congressional Republicans about the huge cost of the planned reconstruction effort, Bush said the federal government can foot the bill without resorting to a tax increase. "You bet it's going to cost money. But I'm confident we can handle it," Bush said. "It's going to mean that we're going to have to cut unnecessary spending."

No new taxes. I'm sure we could even read his lips on the subject if we wanted to. So we're going to go into the bloated federal budget to get rid of all those unnecessary expenditures that Congress usually loves so much. Except there may be another tough choice waiting in the wings. According to Tom DeLay, there is no bloated federal budget.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an "ongoing victory," and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.

. . .

"My answer to those that want to offset the spending is sure, bring me the offsets, I'll be glad to do it. But nobody has been able to come up with any yet," the Texas Republican told reporters at his weekly briefing.

Asked if that meant the government was running at peak efficiency, Mr. DeLay said, "Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we've pared it down pretty good."

And that was before Bush called for all the new spending. But the White House apparently has some ideas of where to cut spending--ideas that Congress has previously rejected. According to today's Washington Post:

Among the programs slated by Bush for cuts were Medicaid, which he now wants to extend to evacuees, and the Army Corps of Engineers, which is faced with the huge burden of repairing levees and dredging waterways wrecked in the storm.

Very clever. Let's offset new spending by cutting those very programs we're intending to expand. Now that's facing down tough choices.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Blogging by Brian Williams

I hadn't been overly impressed with Brian Williams as he took his place in Tom Brokaw's chair behind the NBC anchor desk. He seemed like a bit of a lightweight, but it didn't really matter because network news is dwindling in influence (among its audience as well as within the networks) anyway, so I'm not sure it's as important a job as it once had been.

In view of that, I've been pleasantly surprised by the blog entries he's been posting on the NBC Nightly News blog. It's a group blog on which a number of on-the-air and behind-the-scenes people post, but Williams seems to be bringing more interest and what looks a lot like passion to it than I would have expected. Last week he wrote about restrictions FEMA was trying to place on reporters covering the recovery of the dead--that post, I believe, brought enough light and attention to the matter that FEMA had to start backing off (CNN's securement of a restraining order against FEMA put an actual end to the matter). Today he pointed out an unexpected aspect of the President's visit to New Orleans last night for his speech:

I am duty-bound to report the talk of the New Orleans warehouse district last night: there was rejoicing (well, there would have been without the curfew, but the few people I saw on the streets were excited) when the power came back on for blocks on end. Kevin Tibbles was positively jubilant on the live update edition of Nightly News that we fed to the West Coast. The mini-mart, long ago cleaned out by looters, was nonetheless bathed in light, including the empty, roped-off gas pumps. The motorcade route through the district was partially lit no more than 30 minutes before POTUS drove through. And yet last night, no more than an hour after the President departed, the lights went out. The entire area was plunged into total darkness again, to audible groans. It's enough to make some of the folks here who witnessed it... jump to certain conclusions.

He goes on to talk about the overwhelming military occupation of the city. He also went into that a little bit in a post from yesterday:

This is very rapidly becoming the most credential-ed region of the United States. Roadblocks are prevalent but scattershot... rules of the road change, it seems, by day. Depending on the jurisdiction posted at the roadblock you happen to approach... the assumption often is that you're with al-Qaida. The reception can be very brusque, and many roads remain shut to normal everyday vehicular traffic.

I've got to admit that his blog is winning me over. I'll pay more attention to him and his newscast.

Things Get Really Bad in an Emergency

This came out yesterday, but I didn't get a chance to note it at the time. The New York Times published an in-depth interview with former FEMA Director Michael Brown. Still a team player, apparently, he discusses problems the White House had in responding, but he says he doesn't think the administration is at fault. He is, however, able to give us an idea of why things went so bad:

Mr. Brown acknowledged that he had been criticized for not ordering a complete evacuation or calling in federal troops sooner. But he said the storm made it hard to communicate and assess the situation.

"Until you have been there," he said, "you don't realize it is the middle of a hurricane."

It was because there was a hurricane! Without the massive storm, FEMA wouldn't have had the same kind of problems in responding. In fact, they wouldn't even have needed to respond at all! You can't expect the Federal Emergency Management Agency to just jump right into the middle of an emergency!! It's dangerous. It's confusing. You don't even know what's going to happen. How are you supposed to get anything done under those kinds of conditions? How are you even supposed to know what to do? Why doesn't everybody just give Brownie a break?

Happy Birthday, B. B. King!

I kept putting off this post because I wanted to put up a picture, too, but if I wait too long it won't be his birthday anymore.

I should probably be too embarrassed to admit this, but I first heard of B. B. King through the Partridge Family (hey, come on, I was only ten!). "The Thrill Is Gone" was listed on their second album as David Cassidy's favorite song (it appears that his own taste was far better than his TV family/band's). Maybe giving B. B. a shout-out was his way of proving his street cred to his bubblegum audience.

I don't know if B. B. is feeling the blues over turning 80, but if he is, he can find some solace in his status as a national treasure. The blues haven't been the same since he started bending the strings on Lucille. Check out his Website. Go out and buy one of his multitude of albums. Listen to his guitar sing as it sweeps away your blues, and send him your own birthday wishes.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

So Now We've Got a Plan

Wearing a light blue shirt, standing in front of a light blue cathedral during his fourth (fourth!) trip to New Orleans since Katrina demolished the city, President Bush laid out his plan to rebuild the city and the Gulf Coast. Apparently he's going to throw money at the problem.

But that's not all he's throwing at the problem. Although he didn't mention it tonight, he's throwing Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove at it, too. That's a sure sign the administration is putting all it can into the effort--the effort to rebuild the President's image, that is. Image, poll numbers, and campaigning is what Rove knows, and that's exactly what he's going to go about rebuilding here. He'll certainly be able to spread the spoils of reconstruction around to administration friends and allies. Halliburton already has a piece of the rebuilding pie, and it's just a matter of time until more familiar names start showing up. They'll go into this with all the seriousness they bring to bear in rebuilding Iraq. (How many hours a day of electricity are they up to now in Baghdad?) Rove will have contracts to award, cash to hand out, and a president to make look good. Not that I had any doubt, but I'll put cash down that at least one of Bush's predictions in the last couple of weeks is going to come true. By the time this is all over, Trent Lott's going to have one heck of a great new house.

It's really too bad in times like these that we don't have an opposition party to speak of. Even as Bush sinks in the polls, the Democrats haven't figured out how to put themselves forward as a viable alternative. The DLC pols are spending too much time distancing themselves from Howard Dean to figure out that everybody benefits from a united front. Senator Harry Reid had some good comments about Katrina earlier today, but we're reaching a point when good comments are not enough. One of the phrases Reid focused on today was, "We can do better." Yes, we can do better as Americans, but the Democrats also need to do better as an opposition party.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Finding Out What Went Right and What Went Wrong

It's been reported by pretty much everyone everywhere that the Prez said he took responsibility for the federal government's response to Katrina. It was a partial response to a question about how prepared the nation is for another disaster or terrorist attack, and it was as close to an answer to that question as he was going to give. If you get a chance to see a tape of the answer, it's well worth watching. Bush danced around the more chilling implications and only gave what ground he did because he apparently couldn't figure out a way to dodge responsibility altogether:

Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government. And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility. I want to know what went right and what went wrong. I want to know how to better cooperate with state and local government, to be able to answer that very question that you asked: Are we capable of dealing with a severe attack or another severe storm. And that's a very important question. And it's in our national interest that we find out exactly what went on and--so that we can better respond.

The President's point, as far as it went, is correct. We have to know what really happened so we can know how to correct the errors and improve the response for next time (and remember, as Dick Cheney has made clear, it's when and not if).

Here's another story that's on point:

Senate Republicans on Wednesday scuttled an attempt by Sen. Hillary Clinton to establish an independent, bipartisan panel patterned after the 9/11 Commission to investigate what went wrong with federal, state and local governments' response to Hurricane Katrina.

The New York Democrat's bid to establish the panel--which would have also made recommendations on how to improve the government's disaster response apparatus--failed to win the two-thirds majority needed to overcome procedural hurdles. Clinton got only 44 votes, all from Democrats and independent Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont. Fifty-four Republicans all voted no.

Just as a reminder, there are only fifty-five Republicans in the Senate. One Republican senator, David Vitter, didn't take part in the vote at all. He represents Louisiana. Mississippi's two senators, Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, are both Republican and thus voted against investigating what went wrong and making recommendations to improve the government's response next time.

It's a party-line vote. The Senate Homeland Security Committee has already started its own investigation in which the Republican majority can control the findings to reveal whatever they want, but it won't have the credibility of the independent investigation they defeated today. What are Republicans afraid of? What are they trying to hide?

Dionne: End of the Bush Era

E. J. Dionne has an announcement to make:

The Bush Era is over. The sooner politicians in both parties realize that, the better for them--and the country.

Recent months, and especially the past two weeks, have brought home to a steadily growing majority of Americans the truth that President Bush's government doesn't work. His policies are failing, his approach to leadership is detached and self-indulgent, his way of politics has produced a divided, angry and dysfunctional public square. We dare not go on like this.

I could add some of my own comments here, but there's nothing I'd write that wouldn't just be a pale echo of the case Dionne makes in the rest of his column, so I'll just suggest you go read him instead.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Free to Walk or Not Walk

Who has the crowd pictures from Sunday's Freedom Walk? Where are they? There are some close-ups of people, but you can never get an idea of the throngs in attendance from that. We need a shot similar to what we saw when Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke at the Lincoln Memorial, of a mass of humanity surrounding the Reflecting Pool.

It couldn't be because hardly anyone attended, could it? Most of the press reports stated that "thousands" marched, but I guess you can hit that threshold with anything over two thousand. In These Times was willing to offer a number, suggesting that only about a third of the 15,000 people who signed up actually showed. I guess 5,000 people don't look all that compelling from a helicopter. There is a bright side to the whole thing, though. According to these pictures taken at 2:00 Sunday afternoon and published by AMERICAblog, the marchers were very clean and tidy.

On the down side, as I was looking around for crowd pictures, I came across this post from a protester who was arrested at the Freedom Walk. Read his whole post for the details, but I'll just quote his description of the event gearing up:

The scene that greeted me was fairly strange. A prominent sign declared "Signs and banners prohibited"--which may or may not have seemed like a non sequitur to the other "freedom walkers," but I didn't talk with any of the walkers to find out. Everyone was issued a "Freedom Walk" t-shirt and required to wear it--a signal, along with a tape wristband, that one had been processed and deemed safe. Along with people bearing large organizational signs--"AOL," "HUD," "Justice," and so forth, so groups could find to each other--the whole thing looked homogeneous, hyperorganized and somehow infantilized. I found myself thinking of the old TV series "The Prisoner." On a small stage, an Air Force band played tunes, with a pretty good female vocalist singing country and other favorites, in dress blues.

Yep, sounds like it pretty much lived up to expectations.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Hitting the Links

Here are a couple of things worth reading from the last couple of days.

At Hullabaloo, Digby spells out an argument about how the failed federal response to Katrina was not based in class but in race:

There are strong forces at work that rival economics in people's minds --- tribalism, religion, culture, and tradition all have strong pulls on the human psyche. We are complicated creatures. And the complicated creatures who call ourselves Americans have an issue with race. It's been there from the beginning of this republic and it affects our political system in profound ways.

In the modern era, the Republicans party has developed a patented technique for exploiting it. It's been in disuse for the last few years --- war superseded their need for it. But, they only have to pull it out of the package, wipe off the filth from the last time they used it and put it back in action.

. . .

These last two weeks I've heard the old school racists dragging out the "n" word, but they are dying out. We aren't going to see a lot of that anymore, thank god. But the code words were being slung around more freely than I've seen in ages. The first thing I heard out of people's mouths was that these people [trapped in New Orleans] had been "irresponsible" for not following the directions they were given. The next thing I heard was that "looters" were taking over the city and they should be shot. Then there was the "why do they have so many kids" and "why can't they clean up after themselves" and "defecating where they stood."

I've heard all of this before. Just as racist code language sounds sweet and familiar to the true believers, it sets off alarm bells for people like me; when you grow up in a racist household, (just as when you grow up in a black household, I would assume) you know it when you hear it.

The argument over whether this is an issue of class or race is in some ways a false one. Although it's not accurate or fair to tie race to class, I think that's what happens a majority of the time. Many people claim to be talking about class when they really mean race. When we hear a discussion about the poor of New Orleans, we don't immediately assume we're talking about the white poor, or even the poor of indeterminate race. We assume we're talking about the black poor. We need to watch out for evidence that the Repubs are falling back on their old Southern strategy and call it out when we see it.

Dan Froomkin, in a column entitled "Now They Tell Us," runs down various stories over the weekend that pointed out Bush's nonexistent wardrobe:

Amid a slew of stories this weekend about the embattled presidency and the blundering government response to the drowning of New Orleans, some journalists who are long-time observers of the White House are suddenly sharing scathing observations about President Bush that may be new to many of their readers.

Is Bush the commanding, decisive, jovial president you've been hearing about for years in so much of the mainstream press?

Maybe not so much.

Judging from the blistering analyses in Time, Newsweek, and elsewhere these past few days, it turns out that Bush is in fact fidgety, cold and snappish in private. He yells at those who dare give him bad news and is therefore not surprisingly surrounded by an echo chamber of terrified sycophants. He is slow to comprehend concepts that don't emerge from his gut. He is uncomprehending of the speeches that he is given to read. And oh yes, one of his most significant legacies -- the immense post-Sept. 11 reorganization of the federal government which created the Homeland Security Department -- has failed a big test.

Maybe it's Bush's sinking poll numbers -- he is, after all, undeniably an unpopular president now. Maybe it's the way that the federal response to the flood has cut so deeply against Bush's most compelling claim to greatness: His resoluteness when it comes to protecting Americans.

But for whatever reason, critical observations and insights that for so long have been zealously guarded by mainstream journalists, and only doled out in teaspoons if at all, now seem to be flooding into the public sphere.

An emperor-has-no-clothes moment seems upon us.

We talked about the Newsweek article yesterday, but that was not the only such article by far. Check out Froomkin to see what else some of the major print outlets had to say about the Bush Administration's current location on the political landscape.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Newsweek Says Bush Blew It

Let me join the avalanche of bloggers jumping in to talk about the new Newsweek story, "How Bush Blew It." Newsweek has had a mixed record in reporting about Katrina and its aftermath, but this article appears to be a fairly thorough examination of the larger picture. It doesn't gang up and take one side over another but presents shortcomings on the local, state, and federal levels. But you can't argue that the title isn't an eyecatcher, and that's what's going to get most discussion.

Just a couple of days after Judith Bumiller reported that, despite having been briefed Thursday morning by Michael Chertoff, the President learned of the dire conditions in the convention center later that afternoon from an aide with a news report, the White House still needed to wait for more TV reports for the gravity of the crisis to sink in.

The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.

. . .

When Hurricane Katrina struck, it appears there was no one to tell President Bush the plain truth: that the state and local governments had been overwhelmed, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was not up to the job and that the military, the only institution with the resources to cope, couldn't act without a declaration from the president overriding all other authority.

. . .

The failure of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina worked like a power blackout. Problems cascaded and compounded; each mistake made the next mistake worse.

The article goes on to spell out a series of miscommunications, missteps, and general foul-ups that just made an already horrible situation worse. No one on the federal level appears to have taken the devastation seriously until they absolutely had to. (Does Bush need to appoint a Secretary of CNN to monitor news reports and make sure the administration gets its necessary heads-ups as soon as possible?) That same statement is probably true of state and local officials, but being right in the middle of the action, the point when they absolutely had to take it seriously came far more quickly.

Listen to Katrina Stories [UPDATED]

This American Life ran its Katrina show this weekend, and it's well worth listening to. If you've missed its normal broadcast, you can listen to it on Real Audio. There wasn't a lot of information I hadn't already been aware of, but to hear them spoken brings these stories home much more powerfully than reading similar accounts.

There's an interview with one woman who was stuck in the Superdome, where an overwhelming rumor spread that authorities were planning to open the doors to flood the structure or intended to leave the people there to die of neglect (which some of those trapped inside certainly did). The radio show also talks to Lorrie Beth Slonsky, a San Francisco paramedic who was in New Orleans with her partner (also a paramedic), Larry Bradshaw, at an EMS convention. You can read about Slonsky and Bradshaw in various news sources (here's The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, and they tell their own story at Socialist Worker), but it's worth it to listen. Slonsky talks about what it was like to be trapped in the city, prevented by armed police from leaving, and finally having to rely on Bradshaw's personal EMS contacts to evacuate the disaster area.

It's important to hear all the stories coming out of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, but it's stories like these that will convince those of us who feel we have some resources to take care of ourselves in a similar situation that all it takes is the wrong set of arbitrary circumstances to leave us bereft and helpless. I'm afraid that only our own individual feelings of personal vulnerability will bring about changes to protect the poor and disadvantaged who are always more vulnerable.

UPDATE--I added the link to hear the show on Real Audio.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

It's 30 Years Ago All Over Again!

I was watching the Saturday Night Live retrospective chronicling the first five years of the show starting in the mid-'70s, and I couldn't help but recall the new issue of Rolling Stone. That elderly band of the same name is cover featured with the tag "England's Newest Hitmakers" (where have I heard that before?), and another cover line declares "Paul McCartney's Best Album in Years" (Neil Young's there, too). Is 1975 back for another visit?

So What's the Point of the Freedom Walk Again?

To commemorate the fourth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the Department of Defense has organized a much-discussed "Freedom Walk" from the Pentagon to the Mall, where Clint Black will regale marchers with a concert. So is this a demonstration of American democracy in action? Well, you'd never know from appearances.

As described in yesterday's Washington Post:

Organizers of the Pentagon's 9/11 memorial Freedom Walk on Sunday are taking extraordinary measures to control participation in the march and concert, with the route fenced off and lined with police and the event closed to anyone who does not register online by 4:30 p.m. today.

The march, sponsored by the Department of Defense, will wend its way from the Pentagon to the Mall along a route that has not been specified but will be lined with four-foot-high snow fencing to keep it closed and "sterile," said Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense.

The U.S. Park Police will have its entire Washington force of several hundred on duty and along the route, on foot, horseback and motorcycles and monitoring from above by helicopter. Officers are prepared to arrest anyone who joins the march or concert without a credential and refuses to leave, said Park Police Chief Dwight E. Pettiford.

. . .

Pettiford said officers would patrol to keep interlopers out because the Pentagon restricted the event in its permit application. "That is what their permit called for, so we have those fences to keep the public out."

. . .

One restricted group will be the media, whose members will not be allowed to walk along the march route. Reporters and cameras are restricted to three enclosed areas along the route but are not permitted to walk alongside participants walking from the Pentagon, across the Memorial Bridge to the Mall.

Despite that last restriction, a few local TV and radio stations are still co-sponsoring the event (The Washington Post had been an early sponsor, but they pulled out for PR reasons a few weeks ago). Other sponsors include AOL, McDonalds, and Subway.

Marchers are being separated from the general public, and the media is not allowed to cover it. Does this mean that only the people protected within the fences are celebrating freedom? Are those of us free to roam the world outside of the fences against freedom somehow?

I'm looking forward to how this will play on TV. Fenced off against the rest of the world, the Freedom Marchers won't be able to avoid sending the wrong message.

CNN Lawsuit

Yesterday's temporary restraining order to prevent the federal government from denying reporters' access to the recovery effort of dead bodies in New Orleans is no longer necessary. U.S. District Court Judge Keith Ellison was to hear arguments today for a permanent injunction, but the feds have pulled out and given up their effort to enforce the ban. So far, at least, they haven't lived up to my prediction that they'd deny they ever meant to prevent journalists from covering any part of the recovery, but I still plan to keep an eye out for that talking point.

Friday, September 09, 2005

More on Press Access in NO

A couple of days ago I mentioned the fact that FEMA was seeming to tighten up press access to New Orleans, so I should probably follow up on that. I started writing about how it seems that the restrictions aren't as strict as was initially implied, but we received breaking news right in the middle of this post. CNN has won a restraining order to make sure they have access to the search and recovery of bodies. Over at Daily Kos, lesliet quotes Anderson Cooper:

CNN has obtained a restraining order to allow access to the search and recovery of the dead from Hurricane Katrina. CNN filed suit in federal court arguing that the announcement by FEMA and NO city officials that reporters would be barred from covering the body recovery effort was unconstitutional and in violation of the First Amendment.

This still isn't up on CNN's Website, so there's not much more to discuss yet, but I might as well still include the background information I hadn't had a chance to post when that word came.

The initial FEMA statement concerned photos of dead bodies, which to some degree is a reasonable request. The dead are a major part of a deadly hurricane story, but pictures in which the dead can be identified don't seem necessary. Whenever possible when death has occurred, authorities always withhold the identities of the dead until the next of kin can be identified, and it's certainly possible to take pictures of the Hurricane Katrina dead so that they can't be easily identified.

But FEMA's request quickly took on a life of its own. Brian Williams wrote about his run-ins with authorities, and he talked further about the situation with Howie Kurtz. "I have searched my mind for some justification for why I can't be reporting in a calm and heavily defended American city and cannot find one." Kurtz also mentioned a Washington Post reporter who overheard a sergeant telling a camera crew: "If we catch you photographing one body, we're going to bring you back in and throw you off the boat."

From various sources, Josh Marshall suggests that the limits on the press did not become as strict as they initially threatened. Perhaps that's because authorities felt they couldn't get away with it--maybe Williams's high profile made sure that his complaints were heard. But now with the restraining order, FEMA is likely to act as if the agency never had any intention of limiting any journalist from doing anything. Any tension this might have caused between the press and the administration will just slip back under the covers.

Local Katrina News Blogs

These links will scroll off the page as soon as I make a post today, so I’m bumping them up to the top again. The Times-Picayune and WWL news blogs have been extremely informative in letting most of the world know what’s been happening on the ground in New Orleans. With intentional and unintentional misinformation making the rounds as we tried to figure out the true story of the hurricane and its aftermath, these two sources were vital outlets of information. The situation is not as extreme as it was, of course, and I’m checking these links less frequently than I did a week ago, but I’m not ready to let them go yet.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

What Kind of Media Will We Have?

In Salon, Eric Boehlert warns us against getting too excited with the mainstream media's newfound spine.

The fact that this kind of aggressive questioning of people in power during times of crisis now passes as news itself only highlights just how timid the mainstream press corps has been during the Bush years.

It took a critical editorial from the arch-conservative Manchester Union-Leader leading the way before the "liberal media" was willing to take the plunge and criticize the administration response itself. As the shock of the tragedy wears off, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if we saw Shepherd Smith, Tim Russert, Paula Zahn, and all the rest go back to their winking and nodding as government officials lie to them. We've already had The Washington Post print a lie from an anonymous administration official that Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco had never declared a state of emergency (which she clearly had the Friday before the storm hit [the link is a PDF file]). This inaccuracy somehow found its way into Newsweek, as well. With FEMA attempting to limit what the press can show and where it can go, we'll see if we maintain this strong, new, take-no-prisoners press corps or if the docile mainstream media we've seen for years never really left after all.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Restrictions in NO

Borrowing heavily from Josh Marshall again.

At first the evidence was scattered and anecdotal. But now it's pretty clear that a key aim of the Bush administration's takeover of the NOLA situation is to cut off press access to report the story.

First, there were the FEMA orders barring members of the press from photographing anything to do with the recovery of the bodies of the dead.

Perhaps there could be guidelines about photographs which in any way clearly identified the deceased. No one wants to get first confirmation of the death of a loved one by seeing their body on the nightly news. But a blanket ban serves only to prevent the public from knowing what really happened last week. And the right of FEMA or any branch of the federal government for that matter to issue such a ban on American soil seems highly dubious to me. It's one thing with military casualties: the military operates under its own legal code and not under normal civilian rules. But this is happening on American soil. This isn't a war zone. Nor is it any longer a situation where police or National Guard troops are in the midst of retaking control from mobs or looters. This is a recovery from a natural disaster.

Now comes this post from Brian Williams, which suggests a general effort to bar reporters from access to many of the key points in the city.

Take a moment to note what's happening here: these are the marks of repressive government, which mixes inefficiency with authoritarianism. The crew that couldn't get key aid on the scene in time last week is coming in in force now. And one of the key missions appears to be cutting off public information about what's happening in the city.

This is a domestic, natural disaster. Absent specific cases where members of the press would interfere or get in the way of some particular clean up operation, or perhaps demolition work, there is simply no reason why credentialed members of the press should not be able to cover everything that is happening in that city.

Think about it.

Let's hope this is just an overreaction. But if you didn't follow the Brian Williams link, the NBC anchor describes tensions rising between the National Guard/law enforcement and journalists, with at least one weapon being trained on reporters without cameras.

There are a number of things FEMA may not want reporters to witness. The full extent of the dead, for instance. Possible violence between the National Guard and hurricane survivors who absolutely refuse to leave (we still don't have an answer as to how much force they may be willing to use to ensure evacuation). And is this limited to New Orleans, or will restrictions extend to the larger hurricane relief area?

We won't jump to conclusions, but this is a situation that bears watching.

Indiana Firefighters Return from Atlanta

Chicago's NBC affiliate, WMAQ, ran a story tonight about two Portage, Indiana, firefighters who gave up on their FEMA assignments (mentioned below) and returned home.

[Assistant Fire Chief Bill] Lundy and [Assistant Fire Chief Joe] Calhoun said they don't [want] to bash FEMA or its mission, [NBC5's Phil] Rogers reported. They said they only want to help, and they said there were plenty of other firefighters in the room who felt the same way.

"There was almost a fight," said Portage Assistant Fire Chief Joe Calhoun. "There was probably 700 firefighters sitting in the room getting this training and it dawned on them what we were going to be doing, and then it got bad from there."

. . .

"We're trained in tactical medicine," Lundy said. "We weren't being used for that. We were being used to hand out flyers."

Their boss, Portage Fire Chief Tim Sosby, said he was only too happy to loan out his two men, but thin[k]s they were right to come back home.

"It seemed like an incredible misuse of valuable resources," he said.

The two didn't come home right away, Rogers reported. They waited 24 hours, hoping their real skills might be used. Not only did their assignment never change, they were never told to go anywhere.

Don't Worry! It's Not as Bad as We Thought

At a news conference today, Nancy Pelosi related a conversation she had with the President in which he didn't seem to think things were so bad. After she suggested that he fire FEMA Director Michael Brown, Bush asked, "Why would I do that?" Well, let's let Nancy tell it:

I said, "Because of all that went wrong, of all that didn't go right last week." And he said "What didn't go right?"

Oblivious, in denial, dangerous.

I guess. If you want to watch it yourself, Crooks and Liars has the video. (To do my part in the back-and-forth he said, she said, I'll note that Scott McClellan and Dan Bartlett both argued Pelosi's statement is incorrect.)

Quick Hits

Here are a couple of links from yesterday and earlier today. Josh Marshall has been offering fairly wide-ranging coverage at Talking Points Memo. Yesterday he linked to this article about a mortician ready for deployment to Gulfport as part of a Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team to help with the dead. The mortician says he's been told to "expect up to 40,000 bodies." A lot of people are linking to this, but I haven't seen any further confirmation (although if the number's true, it's no surprise that officials wouldn't want to publicize it).

In another post, Marshall had this article about 1,400 firefighters from around the country who came to Atlanta to help the relief effort only to discover that their assignment will be to hand out FEMA fliers. Well, that's what most of them were told they'd be doing. About 50 elite firefighters had a different assignment:

But as specific orders began arriving to the firefighters in Atlanta, a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas.

Daily Kos and Billmon discuss a picture they found of those intrepid firefighters and their companion (who's even rolling up his sleeves, as if he's actually going to do something).

Don't Play the Blame Game

This may come as a surprise to some, but I'm going to back the administration 100 percent in calling for an end to the "Blame Game." It's unseemly to watch federal officials dodge and weave to avoid accountability for their failings in responding to this disaster and point fingers hoping to pin the blame on local and state officials (or, failing that, on FEMA Director Michael Brown). The President should call a halt to it right now.

It goes without saying that rescue, relief, clean-up, and restoration efforts should remain our top priority, but as a secondary concern, we've still got questions that need to be answered. That's why I'm calling for the Responsibility Test. We'll resolve the issues of who's responsible for the disgraceful efforts in the face of Hurricane Katrina, and whoever needs to be held accountable will be. Although New Orleans is the focal point for obvious reasons, the devastation affected three states, so we should consider all of it. If local officials--of either party--hindered the response, they should be identified and held responsible. If state officials--again, party affiliation is irrelevant--stood in the way, let them stand up now and be counted. And if federal officials--Republican or Democrat--failed to do the job they've been elected or appointed to do, they should step forward to be held accountable. No more blame game. No more elementary-school "Yeah, but he started it." This is the administration that claimed to be putting the grown-ups back in charge, so this is their opportunity to prove it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Chief Justice Roberts

Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the Supreme Court.

In this month's Mother Jones, Michael Kazin lays out reasons why the left has to let the Supreme Court go. In recent years, the Court has been a force for progressivism, and we've gotten used to it. But that's not the Court's historic role. With its lifetime appointments and limited number of members, the Court was designed by the framers to be conservative and to drag the heels of democracy, protecting it from the tyranny of the majority. (They wanted democracy, but not too much of it.) Throughout much of American history, therefore, progress has moved through the legislative branch. With the good fortune of a progressive court in the middle of the 20th century, we've lost track of that.

But as welcome ruling followed welcome ruling through the 1960s and early '70s, many progressives seemed to forget that only popular majorities can secure the rights of individuals from attack and erosion. Roe v. Wade is a case in point. That landmark 1973 ruling cut short the slow but steady passage of liberal abortion laws by state legislatures. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote before she joined the Court, the ruling in Roe "halted a political process that was moving in a reform direction and thereby...deferred stable settlement of the issue."

In the wake of Roe, the anti-abortion movement exploded, impelled by the same rage at "judge-made law" that was once the province of the left. Pro-choicers and their allies then rushed to defend the enemy of their enemy--the Court's perilous liberal majority.

Although we fought for a while, now that the Court seems to be heading back to its historic function of blocking progressive advancement, liberals need to go back to organizing toward legislative battles. Senate Democrats should still insist on the John Roberts paperwork that the Bush Administration is holding back (because, as conservatives like to say, if they've got nothing to hide they should have no problem making the material public), they should still ask Roberts probing questions during the confirmation hearings, and they should still refuse to support the nomination and vote against it on the Senate floor. But short of some sensationalistic find in the judge's background, his nomination won't be derailed, so they shouldn't expend unnecessary energy or capital upon it. Let's use our resources where they can do the most good.

The Education of Mary Landrieu

Here's another story I'm a bit late on. It's been interesting (and stirring) to see Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu come alive in relation to this disaster. In screenwriting parlance, her character arc has been remarkable. On Thursday, she was filling her part as the deferential senator, disappointing Anderson Cooper, among others.

Thank President Clinton and former President Bush for their strong statements of support and comfort today. I thank all the leaders that are coming to Louisiana, and Mississippi, and Alabama to our help and rescue.

We are grateful for the military assets that are being brought to bear. I want to thank Senator Frist and Senator Reid for their extraordinary efforts.

. . .

I know what the people are suffering. The governor knows. The president knows. The military officials know. And they're trying to do the very best they can to stabilize the situation.

Senator Vitter, our congressional delegation, all of us understand what is happening. We are doing our very, very best to get the situation under control.

But I want to thank the president. He will be here tomorrow, we think. And the military is sending assets as we speak.

Cooper lashed out at her (read the entire exchange), but Landrieu seemed unflappable.

A visit from the Prez, though, seemed enough to take care of that attitude. Here's an actual press release from her Senate office:

But perhaps the greatest disappointment stands at the breached 17th Street levee. Touring this critical site yesterday with the President, I saw what I believed to be a real and significant effort to get a handle on a major cause of this catastrophe. Flying over this critical spot again this morning, less than 24 hours later, it became apparent that yesterday we witnessed a hastily prepared stage set for a Presidential photo opportunity; and the desperately needed resources we saw were this morning reduced to a single, lonely piece of equipment. The good and decent people of southeast Louisiana and the Gulf Coast--black and white, rich and poor, young and old--deserve far better from their national government.

(Over at War and Piece, Laura Rozen passes on an account from a Dutch reader that reveals TV viewers in Germany and the Netherlands never had any question of the prefab nature of the photo op:

ZDF News reported that the president's visit was a completely staged event. Their crew witnessed how the open air food distribution point Bush visited in front of the cameras was torn down immediately after the president and the herd of 'news people' had left and that others which were allegedly being set up were abandoned at the same time.)

But Landrieu wasn't finished yet. She still had to get much angrier on ABC's This Week:

And if one person criticizes them or says one more thing--including the president of the United States--he will hear from me. One more word about it after this show airs and I might likely have to punch him. Literally.

Will we get any further evolution? If you hear about it before I do, let me know.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Undercurrents of Race and Class

There's so much going on that I've missed a lot and I'm late on more. By now I'm sure everyone's heard (or heard about) Kanye West's statement on NBC's concert for hurricane victims on Friday night. The week after Time magazine featured him on its cover and in the article "Why You Can't Ignore Kanye," the rapper gave us another reason not to be ignored. Impromptu on live national TV, Kanye criticized the relief effort and said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Lisa de Moraes has the full transcript, and as usual, Crooks and Liars has the video. NBC cut out the Bush statement for the Mountain and Pacific time zones but left the remainder of his statement.

On Monday, Kanye's sentiments were echoed by Bob Herbert in the NYTimes. After going through a litany of human suffering and devastation, Herbert minced no words:

Old, critically ill people were left to soil themselves and in some cases die like stray animals on the floor of an airport triage center. For days the president of the United States didn't seem to notice.

He would have noticed if the majority of these stricken folks had been white and prosperous. But they weren't. Most were black and poor, and thus, to the George W. Bush administration, still invisible.

Sunday, September 04, 2005


No, this isn't a post about Condi Rice's choice of entertainment on Wednesday night. I've been hit in comments by a little bit of spam over the last couple of days, so I just wanted to address it quickly. So far, there hasn't been enough to cause a problem, and I've just deleted it (if the spam is the only comment made on a post or if no other comments make reference to the spam, I'm erasing it completely; if other comments do refer to it, I'm cutting out the spam but noting its deletion). From now on, comments from anonymous posters that consist only of ads and offer nothing to further the conversation will be deleted. Anonymous posters who do join in the conversation are welcome, whether they also include a link in their comments or not (although legitimate comments accompanied by straight-out ads are frowned upon). Blogger has started to offer a verification screen to prevent autospam, but since I get so few comments in the first place, I don't want to add a further obstruction to legitimate posters. We'll see how this new policy plays out and adjust if necessary.

Early Polling

The first polls regarding the federal relief effort are in, and talk about Teflon. The numbers are mixed, but based on what we've seen and what we know about the last few days, that's simply astonishing.

The survey also found that Americans were sharply divided over the performance of Bush and local, state and federal governments in the aftermath of Monday's storm. Slightly less than half--46 percent--approve of the way Bush has handled relief efforts while 47 percent disapprove, a result that might offer some cheer to beleaguered White House staffers who feared a stronger negative reaction.

The early response got equally mixed reviews, with 48 percent rating the federal effort as excellent or good and 51 percent saying it was not so good or poor--views deeply colored by party affiliation. According to the poll, 68 percent of Democrats rated the government's performance as "not so good" or "poor," while 66 percent of Republicans judged it to be "excellent" or "good."

The Death of Rehnquist

Now that shifts the balance, doesn't it? Yesterday, it seemed that the confirmation hearings for John Roberts would be subsumed into the coverage of the ongoing hurricane aftermath along the Gulf Coast. But now we get to see how well an angry press can juggle two important stories, because with the knowledge that we know a second nomination is in the offing, the hearings are elbowing their way back to center stage.

We'll have a chance to see up close how quickly the debacle of disaster relief will be reflected in the national dialogue when it comes to other issues. Even more of the public has lost faith in the administration's ability to perform, but will that translate to second-guessing Bush's choice--soon to be plural, of course--of Supreme Court justices? Now that the Chief Justice slot has opened up, the stakes we're playing for are obvious. It's not a surprise that it opened up--we knew it would, either as a result of Rehnquist's resigning or, as it happened, his death--but the reality of it necessarily imparts a greater gravity. As a nation, do we think we can trust George W. Bush and his administration? Will they be able to spin the relief problems as "mistakes were made," or will those problems stick to them and become part of the administration's identity? Will Democrats begin to act as a real opposition? (Remind me some day to write the post I've been formulating on how the Repubs don't actually have anything to worry about because, no matter how seriously they stumble, the Dems refuse to offer a viable alternative.) The Roberts hearings will allow the first glimpse of whether we'll be dealing with an administration reeling back on its heals or, as has seemed to happen so far, one that shakes off the troubles and stumbles forward heedlessly.